District Fire Management Officer Pat Seekins said fire crews have been working on the controlled burn “off and on” for about three weeks, and on Tuesday they started burning what they believe will be the last remaining piles for this winter. Weather permitting, he said he hopes to be done with the project this week.
Most of the forest roads in the area, which is located near the Millwood Road north of Joe Moore Reservoir, are closed for the winter, and Seekins said no new closures are planned as a result of the burn.
The district typically hires contractors to thin the forest during the summer, and they leave the debris from fallen trees, known as slash, in piles to be burned during the winter. Seekins said the snow on the ground helps keep the fires under control without making the wood too damp to burn. Firefighters burn one pile at a time and monitor each fire to make sure it stays contained.
This year, the district fire crews waited longer than usual to clean up the slash piles due to a lack of snow, Seekins said.
“We’re kind of playing catch-up,” he said.
On Tuesday, he said the district burned 98 acres of slash piles. Dave Grettenberg, the Dolores Ranger District Prescribed Fire Specialist, said he expected to be done with the rest by Friday.
Like other types of prescribed burns, Seekins said slash pile burning is intended to help mitigate wildfire risks during the summer.
“It reduces the amount of slash that’s available to burn in a wildfire,” he said.
Seekins said he expects more wildfires in 2018 after the dry winter, although he said he won’t be able to accurately predict how bad the fire season will be until about mid-April.